McMahen, Katie

 
Suzanne Simard
Williams Lake
Canada
 

Research Topic

Development of forest legacy-based soil rehabilitation techniques for mine reclamation

Research Group

Belowground Ecosystem Group

Research Description

In August 2014, a tailings dam failure occurred at the Mount Polley mine, releasing mine-influenced water and tailings to the receiving environment. The downstream terrestrial ecosystems were impacted by erosion, as well as deposition of tailings and eroded materials. The Mount Polley incident has essentially created primary successional conditions for reclamation and presents a unique opportunity to apply and advance research on the role of forest legacies in facilitating ecosystem recovery.

In my research I am investigating the role of two types of forest legacies in promoting soil rehabilitation and vegetation establishment: (1) native soil transplants, which provide improved soil physical structure and act source of microbial inoculum and nutrients, and (2) spatial legacies of the undisturbed forest along the impacted corridor downstream of the tailings dam failure. Research shows that legacy or “mother” trees transport beneficial resources and biochemical signals to seedlings through symbiotic fungal (mycorrhizal) networks that connect the roots of at least two plants. Connectivity with mycorrhizal networks and the soil microbial community of the adjacent undisturbed forest has potential to increase growth of establishing seedlings and improve their resilience to abiotic stressors, promoting recovery of disturbed areas. Through my research, I aim to advance reclamation methods for rehabilitating soil microbial communities and improving vegetation establishment. It is anticipated that the results will be applicable to rehabilitation of the forest habitats impacted by the Mount Polley tailings dam failure, as well as at other mine reclamation projects or severely disturbed sites.

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I appreciate that the main focus of my graduate program is to learn. There are multitudes of courses and workshops available, which combine nicely with the research opportunities. The camaraderie and knowledge of the staff and students are also a crucial component of the learning environment.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

The Faculty of Forestry at UBC has a good reputation and UBC is relatively close to my research site.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My decision to pursue a Master's was the result of a few factors aligning: (1) I had worked in the Mount Polley mine's environmental department for approximately 5 years and was interested in gaining additional formal education to continue learning and advance my career; (2) the tailings dam failure that occurred at the Mound Polley mine resulted in a complex and unique venue for field research, and (3) through my work I was connected with my current supervisor with whom I formed the relationship that led to me applying to the UBC Faculty of Forestry.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Get outside! I enjoy mountain biking, hiking, camping, skiing, and playing soccer in my spare time. I also like spending time with friends and family, making and eating yummy food (especially dessert), and down time with a good book.

 
 

Through my research, I aim to advance reclamation methods for rehabilitating soil microbial communities and improving vegetation establishment. It is anticipated that the results will be applicable to rehabilitation of the forest habitats impacted by the Mount Polley tailings dam failure, as well as at other mine reclamation projects or severely disturbed sites.